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San Antonio Program Pairing Students With Startups Enters 'Crucial' Year

Paul Flahive | Texas Public Radio
Rows of students and startup leaders undergo speed interviews as part of Students+Startups

This story was updated 3.4.2019 at 12:00 p.m.

It’s a Tuesday night, and hundreds of San Antonio startup leaders sit at rows of tables with college-aged men and women in blazers and skirts. The hopeful students and intrigued small business owners introduce themselves, and the noisy multitude of voices fills the workroom at the Pearl. Every moment counts.

Big screen TVs overhead count down the remaining seconds. When the time is up, 80|20 Foundation program manager Thu Nguyen makes an announcement.

“Hey guys, interview number four is over," she says. "We are going to take a quick 10-minute break, and we’re gonna start at 6:50.”

Students have only minutes to make a good impression if they hope to land one of the 90 paid internships offered as part of Student+Startups, the four year-old program funded by 80|20 and run with Geekdom and Trinity University. The program takes students from any major and pairs them with local startups.

Luis Martinez, director of the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship at Trinity, said maybe don’t put these 18-22 year olds on your most important five projects, but, “project six through 12, boy, it would be really exciting to get some movement on it, so that any progress is made is really advancing your business in some way."


Credit Courtesy 80|20 Foundation

Students+Startups grew quickly over the past four years, from filling 15 internships up to the current 250 applications.

Thirty new SA companies joined this year, and returning startups want more.

“It was an easy, obvious call for us to continue to work with the program,” said Ryan Ward, chief operations officer at Scraffic. They sell brick-and-mortar retailers a device that automatically counts and logs customer traffic. They took their their first intern three years ago.

“He, within a matter of three weeks, fixed a problem that we had been working on for months,” he said.

They hired that intern when he graduated. Currently Students+Startups has a 56 percent hire rate.

While that first year was exceptional, Ward said all interns have been talented, and — in a startup where everyone is stretched thin — it helps.

“We’re all over the place, you know, I’m the COO but I’m also the janitor,” he said.

Students+Startups is an internship program, but San Antonio also gets a crack at stealing talent from another market or keeping one who may have moved away after graduation.

Credit Paul Flahive | Texas Public Radio
Dax Moreno with Tech Bloc interviews someone to help the nonprofit develop their talent recruitment program.

“San Antonio doesn’t necessarily jump to mind when people think about, you know, startup hubs around the country,” said Scott Andes, program director for City Innovation Ecosystems for the National League of Cities, an advocacy organization.

Talented millennials are critical for urban economies, he said, and Students+Startups is an elaborate city-building program.

“I think this is a really phenomenal program, and, frankly, I’d like to bottle it and sort of force-feed it to all the cities I am working with,” Andes said.

The program began as a way of plugging in Trinity students to startups. Trinity is a net importer of students, with around 85 percent coming from somewhere else. But Trinity’s Luis Martinez said it was often just one stop on their life journey. Many departed after graduation. He said, however, that other students have told him that Students+Startups was one reason they stayed.

“As our program grows, that’s going to be one of the metrics,” he said. “What kind of impact do we see in attracting this millennial talent that has the desire to go to other metro areas and having San Antonio be their top choice.”

That’s why this year they are expanding the program beyond Trinity’s walls — to capture students at other local universities. For the first time, organizers are expanding the program to the whole country to — among other things — change how people think about the city.

"San Antonio sometimes does a bad job of branding itself,” said Alexandra Frey, executive director of the 80|20 Foundation.

Her team’s job is to not only connect students with great work experiences but also with fun evening and weekend programming. They want these millennials to see themselves living here.

Eventually, she said, they plan to grow Students+Startups to 500 students. And this first year with national students is “very important. I mean, this year’s crucial.”

Credit Paul Flahive | Texas Public Radio
UT Austin senior Amanda Chandler is vying for one of 90 paid internships as part of Students Startups.

Amanda Chandler is one of the 17 students — from Austin to New York City — who was speed interviewed.

She was interviewed via video chat from the University of Texas at Austin campus, where she is a senior.

“I’ve known about this internship for a couple of years, and I was really excited to see it expand to other schools this summer,” she said.

More than 10 students may end up without any internship this year.

She interviewed with multiple companies. She said she is nervously waiting to hear if she gets another interview.

Transparency Note: The 80|20 Foundation is a financial contributor to the TPR Technology and Entrepreneurship Fund.

Paul Flahive can be reached via email Paul@tpr.org or on Twitter @paulflahive.

Paul Flahive can be reached at Paul@tpr.org